Monday, April 21, 2014

What Will I Inherit?

The rooms are empty now,
     and yet the floors and walls are steeped in memories
How do we keep them?
How can we ferry them across the generations?
I want to salvage what I can, 
     before the doors lock behind me
I want to scour the house for some good thing
I want to savor that smell
I want to retrieve some small ember 
     of the warmth that once gathered here
I want to drink from the family well
But the house has grown cold
The well is almost all dried up
The life has been eking out of the cracks, 
     dispersing across the country,
     gathering in other homes,
     digging other wells.
The rooms are empty now
Only relics remain

So what can I ask for? 
What will I receive?
Is there anything left for someone so far away?
Something that will smuggle out of the country 
     a lifetime worth of trips 
to Grandma’ and Grandpa’s house?

The bricks and mortar are staying put
The foundation strong but immobile
     too burdensome for transport to another context
Anyway, left to someone I hardly know… so
I want the crawl space in the unfinished basement,
That small clearance, where only children can stoop, 
     and with a scoop of imagination,
          create a stage for heroes 
               with socks for skin and hands as bones.
Please, just bag it up, this tiny magic place, 
     and send it overseas,
And I shall grow from it another house, 
     with soul, and spirit, 
          and living, breathing, pulsing stones

No chairs, no tables, no rugs or cupboards,
No beds, no paintings, no pillows or covers
     none of these will fit in my check-in luggage.
Every item too big, too cumbersome, too heavy a load,
May I just have the alligator moat?
That space between the beds upstairs,
     which flowed with crock infested, rushing waters
Just throw them in a little boat, 
     those make-believe reptiles snapping at our legs,
          as we jumped from one mattress to the other.
And let them rough it on the Ocean Seas,
     until they find their way back home to me

The table is taken
The plates are packed
The glasses gone
So, may I have the wet twinkle in my uncle’s eyes?
Can I have the belly laughter that rolled 
     through the dining room?
I’d like to have Grandma’s soft, lilting, reading voice,
     and Grandpa’s raspy, enquiring interjections
I want to keep the stories
     of younger years and days of old
And if someone else should claim the silver 
     and the gold
I want to have the tales of sorrow 
     gone untold
Especially those 
     tales of sorrow gone untold.

When the shelves are empty 
     and the closets bare
When the lights are off
     and the fire has burned out
When the house lay dark
     and cold as a tomb
And there’s nothing left
     but the elephants in the room
Let me take that invisible herd,
     that has been there as long as I remember
I’ll slip them past customs unseen,
     fly them to a far off place in the sun
Give them each a name 
     and shoot them one by one

Now I’m standing in the kitchen
It is time to go
     and deep down I know
I will never see her again
I kiss her lips and squeeze her hand
     and fight the water in my eyes
So much time, so much distance, 
     so many worlds between us
How quickly we run out of time and things to say 
     and no parting words redeem us
But I am not leaving empty handed
I’ve smuggled something precious in my carry-on
Something that I have received all through my years, 
     though I live so far away
     and never even asked for it
So now at home, when it gets dark,
     and hard, 
     and I’m all tied up 
          and tangled in my scars
I look to her faithful, humble prayers 
     collected like fireflies 
          in these three blue jars.

Monday, April 7, 2014

No, Shame is Not Good. Never is, Never Was

It is all swirling around in my head at such a great speed, I don’t know how to slow it down.   The blog post I just read, by my dear, ultra-conservative-pastor-uncle, comes down hard on someone brave enough, or dumb enough, to be honest about the hard parts of his life on the public platform of Christianity Today’s magazine.  No matter the context of gender-conflict, the crux of my uncle’s beef with the CT article is summed up in the following paragraph from his blog post:

"This is the seduction of postmoderns. Sin and guilt have been replaced by victimhood and shame. Postmoderns have been robbed of forgiveness and left with shamelessness—a shamelessness most promoted (as with Merritt) precisely at those places shame ought rightfully to be most alive, most active, and most redemptive. Shame is a gift of God ordained by Him to assist us in forsaking wickedness and fleeing to the Cross. God's Law gives the gift of shame to the unbeliever so he may flee to Christ. Shame is much of the weight Christian felt as he ran from his village and family, covering his ears and crying out, "Life! Life! Eternal life!" Where do we hear such cries today?  Postmoderns don't know the language of sin and redemption. Sin has morphed into brokenness. Conversion and redemption have been replaced by self-disclosure's emotional and spiritual catharsis."

Then there are the articles I’ve just read, which revisit the unimaginable challenge that the perpetrators and the survivors of genocide have of living together as neighbors twenty years after the harrowing events in Rwanda.

And somehow, it is all connected, at least it is in my mind, in a paper I wrote called, Rwanda: Identity Crises to the Core, for my Conflict Analysis course a couple of years ago.
Shame, Guilt, Victimhood, Violence, Forgiveness, Sin, Language, it is all in there somewhere.
My uncle claims that, “Postmoderns don’t know the language of sin and redemption.”  I would counter, that this type of religious-speak isn’t clearing things up for us, especially when it promotes shame as a good thing.

So here it goes; I’m going to weave together the relevant parts of my paper to hopefully introduce a more helpful language about shame and guilt into this conversation, which I believe applies whether one is religious or not.

In my paper, I was trying to understand and apply Edward E. Azar’s model of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC) to the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, and asked if it could adequately account for the epic scale and intensity of violence that took place in those tragic 100 days of Rwanda’s history.  I’ve left out the brief review of Rwanda’s colonial past and the historical developments that lead up to the atrocities of 1994, and jump in here, where I give a brief summary of Azar’s analytical tool.  It may be a little technical at first, but bear with me, because I think the model not only translates to other social conflicts (even the gender debate), but especially in the dramatic context of genocide, begs us to dig even deeper and discover just how dangerous and volatile shame really is.

Azar’s model of Protracted Social Conflict: a big step in the right direction.

Azar’s theory sees basic needs for security, recognition and distributive justice as the driving motivation of prolonged and violent struggles between diverse communities, and there are three components to his approach: Genesis, Process, and Outcomes Analysis.


As the word implies, “Genesis refers to a ‘set of conditions that are responsible for the transformation of non-conflictual situations into conflictual ones,” and is itself composed of four conditions.  The most consequential of these factors leading to PSC, so Azar, is “Communal Content.”  Societies made up of divers communities, whether through migration or the “divide-and-rule policies of former colonial powers,” commonly lead to one group dominating other sub-groups and demonstrating a disconnect to the needs of these groups in society.  As we have seen, this was clearly the case in Rwanda. (Omitted in this post)  

Human Needs

But the driving force to PSC, and Azar’s second component, is ‘Human Needs,’ which suggests that “individual or communal survival is contingent upon satisfaction of three fundamental sets of basic needs variables: acceptance needs (recognition of communal identity); access needs (effective participation in society); and security needs (physical security, housing, and nutrition)."  When these needs are not met, or access to procuring these needs is closed off, grievances arise and are usually vented collectively through an ‘Identity group.’  Unlike ‘interests,’ needs are ‘ontological and non-negotiable’ and will inevitably surface as an area of conflict.
Government and the States Role
The third condition of Azar’s Genesis component, is Government and the States Role.  Azar positions the state as primary custodian of the communal groups under its jurisdiction and underlines its responsibility to ensure that each group is able to meet their basic needs.  In countries which are in protracted social conflict, one identity group will secure political power, and rather than use its resources to ensure that the basic needs of its constituency are met, it utilizes available resources to maintain exclusive domination.
International Linkages
Azar recognizes that states are usually not acting independently from a Global reality, but that quite often the policies and institutions of a state are also marked by the international ties it has.  This fills a final condition that contributes to the inception of PSC, and is termed International Linkages.

Process Dynamics

   Process dynamics is the second component of Azar’s PSC theory and describes the interplay of identity groups, which may initiate intentional public disruption to draw attention to basic human needs; the state, which responds with coercion and suppression; and the mechanisms of mistrust and ego-centrical perceptions, which further escalate the conflict.  

Outcomes Analysis describe the possible consequences: the breakdown of social and economic structures; perceptions of collective victimization, and increased dependency on external actors.

The diagram below depicts Azar’s model as it has been understood and described above.  Access, Acceptance and Security needs are in the center.  These are both expressed through, but also withheld based on identification with an identity group depicted as the second substantial ring, and grouped together for this paper as biological, ideological, geographical and socio-economic.  Much thinner and significantly more brittle is the outermost ring, which depicts the state affiliation, buttressed by military power, western political philosophy and international institutions and states.  This identity ring is the first to crumble when basic needs are not being recognized by the state.

Important paradigm shift for states and mediators

 Azar’s needs based analysis introduced an important paradigm shift from traditional assumptions about conflict, and opened the door for new approaches to conflict resolution.  First and foremost, it changed the idea that conflicts were about mere ‘interests’ over which the state was at leisure to drive a hard bargain, to the understanding that the majority of conflicts worldwide are about ‘basic needs,’ and will not go away until these needs are met.  Secondly, it moved the lens of analysis away from the state as the legitimate stake-holder in conflict, and placed it on the ‘Identity groups,’ as not only the legitimate stake-holder, but also the ‘legitimizer’ of the state.  States whose authority rests in the power of its military strength or in the backing of international super powers instead of in fulfilling their obligations to maintain infrastructures and institutions that meet the basic needs of its diverse identity groups, are bound to feel the backlash in protracted conflict.  
For those working in the field of conflict resolution, the shift has meant a move away from coercive, mediator-centered power-brokering on behalf of the state, and a move toward problem-solving workshops, where the mediator is a facilitator helping to foster “valued” relationships and to uncover the basic needs of all the parties involved.  On the whole, this paradigm shift is a significant step in the right direction.  

Getting to the core of violent conflict: 

The question must be posed, however, if such a model can sufficiently explain a massacre of such proportions as the Rwandan genocide, or if Azar’s Needs Theory offers enough of a framework to rebuild a stable, post-conflict Rwanda considering the personal participation of almost its entire population in the slaughter.  Why do some identity groups, who have suffered similar colonialism, or racial, ethnic, gender, or political domination, assert the needs of their identity group pro-actively and mostly non-violently (India’s independence, US Civil Rights movement, Eastern European Block, Liberia) and others do not?  What does Rwanda have in common with other historical genocides?  Germany’s extermination of the Jews cannot be explained by the PSC model, and yet one must wonder if there is some common denominator between the two atrocities.  It seems that Azar’s description successfully lists the combustible components of PSC, as one would the makings for a camp fire: one needs dry leaves, kindling, dry wood, air and something to ignite it.  What it does not explain, however, is why one combustible pile spontaneously bursts into flames and burns down the whole forest, and another, equally combustible pile ignites a controlled torch, which then ignites other torches until there is a clearly lit path out of the jungle and much less collateral damage along the way.

- Shame-Hubris prone identities 

* shame as ultimate root of violence

James Gilligan, M.D. who was director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison system and directed the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School, adds the central puzzle piece to this picture based on his extensive experience working with the most violent perpetrators in our western prison system.  In his words "...the basic psychological motive, or cause, of violent behavior is the wish to ward off or eliminate the feeling of shame and humiliation- a feeling that is painful, and can even be intolerable and overwhelming- and replace it with its opposite, the feeling of pride."  "Suzanne Retzinger, for example, in Emotions and Violence (1991) wrote that "a particular sequence of emotions underlies all destructive aggression: shame is first evoked, which leads to rage and then violence."  Numerous studies have been done which show that insulting participants of the study was the only sure way to arouse anger and aggression, and not by attempts to frustrate them, as they had presumed.

* shame seeks to defeat and deflect

What this suggests in relation to the Needs Theory is that violence does not arise out of a frustration of having ones basic needs denied, nor is violence being utilized in order to appropriate basic needs, but that violence erupts in response to deeply felt shame, or a shame persona that people experience as a result of coercion, lack of due recognition or respect, injustices suffered, extreme inequality and one’s own perception of inadequacy.  Perpetrators of violence in this light are not out to “reclaim” their fair share of the pie, but their sole purpose is to deflect from their own shame by humiliating others.  Violence is employed to replace, cover or escape the excruciating feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, i.e. shame, with the feelings of superiority and power one gets from humiliating someone else.  We will call this the ‘Shame-Hubris core.  (We use 'Hubris' instead of 'pride' because of its purely negative connotations.  Pride can also denote a positive self-esteem and identification with others’ success.  Hubris expresses exactly the kind of self-boasting which exalts itself at another’s expense.) 

* victim and victor identities

The person or culture with a ‘shame-hubris’ core has organized their entire identity around the dualistic concept of being either a “victim” or a “victor.”  Shame or be shamed.  They are two sides of the same coin.  A shame core can remain passive and apathetic, assuming a “victim” identity by finding in their own ‘unworthiness’ or helplessness reason enough for the assaults and deficiencies that they suffer.  The ‘victim’ identity fails to identify their needs and insist that they be met, because they blame themselves and their inferiority for their predicament, and asserting those needs would only further expose their shame and inferiority.  It can be that the ‘violence’ they perpetrate is either self-directed, or never amounts to more than what they might imagine doing to their victimizers, but which can, after years, erupt as desperate moments of viciousness.  
The violence of the ‘victor’ side of the ‘shame-hubris’ core, is not ‘self-assertion (!!!!),’ but a deflecting away from what one believes is an unworthy or disdained self in the eyes of external judges.  If no other means for raising one's esteem in the eyes of others is perceived available, and lacking other emotional or social constraints (such as empathy, fear of consequences), then violence is used to either avert the judging, external ‘eyes’ toward another object of disdain, or the external judges themselves will be eliminated.  Herein lies the correlation between the Rwandan genocide and that of Nazi Germany.  In the humiliating aftermath of WWI, the Jews became the scape-goat to undo “the shame of Versailles."  Hitler exhibited a hubris of boastful self-reliance not only toward the Jews, but toward all his neighboring nations to cover the gaping wound that the shame of defeat had left in Germany.

- Guilt-Grace prone identities 

* making a clear distinction between shame and guilt

To understand more fully the destructive and debilitating nature of the ‘shame-hubris core,’ it is necessary to examine its counterpart, guilt.  It is worth cutting through the jungle of emotional taxonomy to understand and distinguish as clearly as possible between shame and guilt, as they build fundamental aspects of our core identity and can steer us toward either isolation (through withdrawal or violence) or toward a socially integrated existence in even the most challenging of circumstances.  Dr. BrenĂ© Brown, who has spent a decade studying shame and empathy, defines shame as follows, "Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging."  And though shame and guilt are both “emotions of self-evaluation” shame is best understood as “I am bad, whereas guilt is understood as I did something bad.  Fossum and Mason’s definition of shame is fuller but corroborates with that of Brown’s, “Shame is an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person.  It is the self judging the self…. A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.”  Guilt, on the other hand, “does not reflect directly upon one’s identity nor diminish one’s sense of personal worth.  Guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions (and the consequences they have for others), while shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.”  
June Tangney’s extensive research substantiates these distinctions adding that whereas shame motivates one to “deny, hide or escape,” guilt motivates one toward “reparative actions of confessing, apologizing and undoing.”  Guilt produces empathy, which demonstrates the ability to feel the other’s pain and take their perspective.  Shame is wrapped up in one’s self and “interferes with an empathic connection.”  Shame prone individuals are more likely to succumb to “feelings of anger and hostility, and once angered, manage it in an unconstructive fashion and blame other people.”  People with a guilt prone core “handle anger pro-actively and constructively” when they are wronged by others.

* borrowing the word ‘grace’

Just as a shame culture or core has revealed ‘hubris’ to be the reverse side of the same coin, so also does the ‘guilt’ culture or core have its positive corollary, and to name it, we shall have to borrow a word from the Christian faith and only tweak it somewhat to suit our purposes here.  The word is ‘grace,’ and it is understood by Christians to be “God’s gift of God’s self to humankind, a spontaneous gift from God to man - “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved."  Without getting into a theological discourse, it is necessary to borrow this word from the realm of theology, for I can think of no other word which conveys the concept of vulnerable, undeserved, self-giving as does the word ‘grace.’  In the case argued here, the one word, ‘grace,’ will refer not to ‘God’s’ gift of himself to humankind, but to a person’s gift of themselves to another or to the larger community.  It is a stand-in for the courageous, compassionate, generous attitude of vulnerable self-giving, which assumes responsibility for one’s own identity- needs, desires, strengths and short-comings- even in environments of hostility, coercion or injustice.  Where shame says “I am bad and must hide,” and hubris says, “you make me feel bad and must be defeated,” guilt says, “what I have done has damaged relationship, and I must make amends,” and grace says, “here I am, as I am, include me (as I include you) in a flourishing, safe and just community.”

- Diagraming the big picture 

To understand how these core identities play out in respect to Azar’s PSC model, I have included diagrams to show how the different elements relate to one another.  These two diagrams depict both an adjustment to the needs ring (which I explain in my original paper) and a major altercation to Azar’s PSC theory by inserting an innermost core.  

* Shame-Hubris Core

The first of the two diagrams shows the addition of a ‘shame-hubris’ core.  The shame-hubris core can be activated (the jury is still out on what actually causes some to be shame-prone and others not) or intensified when basic needs are not met, or are perceived to be threatened, which then triggers either apathy, helplessness and self-blame, i.e. a victim identity is assumed, or rage and violence are expressed through an identity group to defeat and humiliate the threatening ‘other’ identity group, i.e. a victor identity is pursued.  Persons or identity groups acting from a shame-hubris core fail to take responsibility for voicing their basic needs or grievances, blame (either themselves or others), can become violent, are divisive (leading to more entrenched identity groups) and destructive (vandalism, physical abuse and murder), which in turn only serves to deepen the shame-hubris core of their identity causing deeper isolation.

* Guilt-Grace Core

The second diagram shows the addition of a ‘guilt-grace’ core.  When persons of the ‘guilt-grace’ core perceive that their basic-needs are not met because of their affiliation with an identity group, they take responsibility to articulate those needs and grievances, alone or in chorus with their identity group, in such a way that diffuses identity groups, at least to some degree, in search of a common humanity.  Paul in his letters to the Galatians asserts, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...”  Martin Luther King worked toward a day when “a man will no longer be judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.”  What marks many such non-violent movements is their ‘inclusivity,’ welcoming other identity groups who were willing to stand in solidarity with them.  Many whites also joined arms with African Americans in the struggle for their civil rights.  The ecumenical, women’s peace movement in Liberia identified themselves as “mothers” in their petitions to the warlords, communicating that they were all one family and should work together for peace.  This is because the ‘guilt-grace’ prone person’s attitude is, “here I am, as I am, include me (as I include you) in a flourishing, safe and just community.”  The methods to voice basic needs born out of this core identity are creative, non-violent, relational, inclusive and lead to greater self-worth and integration.
 Gilligan, Braithwaite and Tangney push for approaches to deal with crime that will reduce shame but increase guilt.  Tangney suggests specifically that these approaches should: “have an emphasis on community, personal responsibility and reparation; include active participation of offenders, victims and the community;  aim to repair the fabric of the community rather than dole out punishment; and should encourage offenders to take responsibility for their behavior, acknowledge negative consequences and empathize with the victim, feel guilt for having done wrong, and act to make amends.” 

Identity Transformation From The Inside Out 

Informing Azar’s model of Protracted Social Conflict with the extensive research and experience of sociologists, criminologists and clinicians, I have attempted to show that the primary element to violent conflict rests in our core beliefs about ourselves as being either a “Victim/Victor” or as being a “Valid member of the community.”  For the Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda the task of transforming a shame-hubris core to that of a guilt-grace one is all the more difficult in the aftermath of genocide and the current elaborate sorting and labeling of a retributive reckoning of those horrible days.  But if there is any hope for the future of Rwanda, or any Nation or people for that matter, then it lies in the ability of each person to understand that their humanity is not something parceled out to them in the form of rights and privileges of a political body, that it is not bound up in an obvious identity group, and that they are not merely the sum total of their needs, but that their humanity is distinguished through their own creative, generous, and vulnerable self-giving to design environments of flourishing, safety and justice for everyone.  Creative non-violence is more than a strategy.  It can only arise out of a deeply felt self-perception of one’s own worth and the worth of others- even the enemy- and the strong belief in our interdependence, indeed the interdependence of all living and non-living elements on our planet.

1 Wikipedia. Protracted social conflict. International Alert. Fact Sheet about Azar. In. Wikipedia. Protracted social conflict. Byrne, S., & Irvin, C. L. (2000). Reconcilable differences: turning points in ethno-political conflict. Kumarian Press Inc., p. 67)4 (International Alert )5 Burton, J. W. (1988). Conflict Resolution as a Function of Human Needs. In R. Coate & J. A. Rosati (Eds.), The Power of Human Needs in World’s Society (pp. 187-204). Boulder and London: Lynn Rienner Publishers, p. 194)6 (Byrne & Irvin, 2000, p. 68)7 (Byrne & Irvin, 2000, p. 68)8 (Byrne & Irvin, 2000, p. 69)9 (International Alert; Byrne & Irvin, 2000, p. 69)10 (Burton, 1988)11 (Burton, 1988, p. 198)12 (Burton, 1988, p. 193)13 (Burton, 1988, p. 198)14 Gilligan, J. (2001). Shame and the Death of Self. In T. & Hudson (Ed.), Preventing Violence (pp. 29-55). Thames & Hudson, p. 29)15 (Gilligan, 2001, p. 34)16 (Gilligan, 2001, pp. 32-33)17 (Gilligan, 2001, p. 33)18 (Gilligan, 2001, p. 53)19 Lamb, S. (1996). The Trouble with Blame: Victims, perpetrators, and Responsibility. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press., pp. 5-6)20 (Gilligan, 2001, p. 37)21 (Gilligan, 2001, p. 51)22 (Gilligan, 2001, p. 53)23 Brown, B. (2008). I Thought It Was Just Me (but it wasn’t): Telling the truth about perfectionism, inadequacy and power. N.Y., New York: Gotham Books, p. 524 (Brown, 2008, p. 5)25 Fossum, M. A., & Mason, M. J. (1989). Facing Shame, Families in Recovery. N.Y. New York: W.W.Norton., 1989, p. 526 (Fossum & Mason, 1989, p. 5)27 Tangney, J. Shame and Guilt, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Grace', Komonchak et al (eds), Joseph A (1990). The New Dictionary of Theology. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. p. 437.29 (Tangney)30 Galatians 3:28, In NIV.31 (Tangney, )32 (Ingelaere, 2008, p. 16-17)