Defined by its shadow

Sometimes it’s easier to definition an object or concept by its shadow because, the shadow is more familiar, it’s easier for us to identify and work with.

In the case of Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art (about creativity), the shadow was “the resistance” – the force which conspires to stop us doing our most meaningful work.

Pressfield pitches us at war with the resistance, at war for the meaning and fulfilment in our life. And it works, because it’s easier for us to feel the resistance than it is to feel the burning drive of our own creativity. The resistance is familiar and by identifying it, naming it and calling it out, he creates the moment required to take it down.

It’s compelling stuff and is definitely worth the hour or two it will take you to devour it.

But right now, I’m reading a book about vulnerability by Brene Brown which does the same thing. It defines a lot of vulnerability and its importance by what it’s opposed to, by what it neutralises, by what it fights. But in Brown’s book the shadow is not easy to name, to identify or call out.

The shadow side of vulnerability is shame – and I’ve never found anything else which is so difficult to read about, but so important to understand.

I can’t really stress how weird it feels to be read a book which is urging you to open the Pandora’s box of your own personal shame and then take a look inside. And then go to work.

Shame is horrible. It’s insidious and malevolent and just plain fucking awful. And it’s also a key driver of our action and behaviour, so you better believe it’s worth understanding.

A big reason why it’s so important, is that we never talk about it. It’s not part of any broad conversation, except as an instrument, a weapon which is often publicly wielded at those who are caught doing in public, things which we might all do in private.

And it’s hard to talk about shame. I certainly don’t want to write about it here. But I feel like I have to. I feel like we’ll all have to at some point. Because shame is a viscous catalyst of isolation. It’s horribly contagious and it thrives on secrecy, silence and judgement.

It might not be the kind of topic that you strike up at the bus stop, but it’s going to have to come out somewhere.

You might not get on board with the value in supercharging vulnerability, but it doesn’t take much of a look inside, at its shadow before you realise that it’s worth doing something about shame.

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