Two years ago I was presented with the immeasurable opportunity to write and contribute to the Huffington Post. I was off to a good start with Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristoff commenting "good work, keep it up." Then I wrote an article on Sri Lanka which prompted an individual to attempt to lambast my husband over one line out of seven paragraphs saying "how could you do this, this is family." In retrospect it was amusing for numerous reasons: its not as if my husband wrote the article yet this person had a problem with a female writing it and could not engage in dialogue and confront said female (me), the identity is absolutely disguised (the point is to shed light on hypocrisy, not specific characters) and well, in the words of Anne Lamott, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better." At that time however, the ivy league graduate degrees and accolades dissipated in the face of the possible shame I thought I may have brought upon myself and my husband, with questions abounding in all seriousness of why I could not just sit at home making dosas or as is more apt usually in South Asia, encase myself in the veneer of traditional housewife doing what I wanted behind closed doors. In the end, I did not write for two years. Now I am back.
Shame is an interesting concept, with no more fertile ground to examine than from where I stand. With Huffington's new launch in India, cross-cultural assumptions about shame warrant examination. The Chinese philosopher Mencius said, "Men cannot live without shame. A sense of shame is the beginning of integrity." Is it? Or is it the beginning of a thickening wall of silence where secrets, suffering and trauma are transmitted inter generationally? Culture is often considered as something that is historically derived with socially transmitted ideas and practices. Shame is referred to as a moral and self-conscious emotion because a person needs to be able to evaluate self on the basis of what is good, right and desirable. Some research has shown that in independent Western cultural contexts, 'success' situations that enhance self-esteem are more relevant whereas in interdependent Eastern cultural contexts, 'failure' situations, which invite self-reflection, were more relevant.
Evaluation has to take place in a globalized context given current world realities with the question posed: what is working? Aristotle once said "Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way -- that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." In the Uber Taxi Rape case in India, the collective once again went into a rage saying they felt shame at what India has become. This concurs with research that evidences South Asians feel shame in something that someone has done to them, as opposed to something they themselves did, and in this case, like the Nirbhaya rape, this woman was personified as a daughter of the nation. Yet what good is venting shame in 140 characters on Twitter or "liking" a reprehensible, gruesome act on Facebook? In a country where parents change the channel when a sanitary napkin advert comes on and an estimated 53 percent of children are sexually abused, the concept of shame needs a re-haul. Why are we not interviewing the Uber Taxi rapist? Or running interviews on the men involved in the prostitution scandal in Hyderabad? Our Bais-Selvanathan foundation almost offered a reward for anyone who could offer information on the identity of the men who were paying for sex acts but were easily concealed whilst the actress was shamed untill no end. We must prohibit any and all violence and dialogue it out by taking action individually and collectively until each side's voice is hoarse. This needs to cut across SES, race, ethnicity, gender and popularity by just being HUMAN.
Here, I'll go first and eschew some societal norms. Currently I am under a temporary gag order (injunction) to not speak about a morally and unethical act that somebody else committed, an act that is met with caning or whipping in some parts of the world and where world over law and public consensus has rendered the act reprehensible. I blanched at the suggestion that a mutual gag order be put into place, how does both sides being silent about a public interest issue correct the issue at hand? Perhaps I am part of the new wave generation of South Asians that ask the question 'So What'? That was my response when people again, in the interest of "sound advice" said "careful, your name might be in the paper." The untold amounts of integrity, innovativeness and courage that become quelled in the name of shame can never be properly measured.
For years I have wrestled with how identity effects my cognitive processes, perhaps I am coming from a necessarily Western context because of my education or an Eastern context because of years of living and exposure yet recent experience transcends both. When meditating with a senior disciple of the Dalai Lama, one that has traveled the world with him as translator, I marveled at the simple ease in which he spoke about China in relation to Tibet. He was upfront, it was in dialogue, but more importantly he spoke his truth unabashed, unashamed with zero fear. There was no sensationalism yet by speaking directly, he honoured the toll it has taken on countless millions. Japanese Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda crosses over from uniformity and consensus in his often open criticisms from Japanese foreign policy to encouraging disciples to be frank and direct with their children in matters of the heart. This has taught me that often, the concept of shame is a technique used for manipulation and control by the powerful, yet the key and energy to reversing this is in everyone's hands.
As the year begins, let us ask ourselves why we continue to pretend or not acknowledge what there is to acknowledge? As the race rows continue in the US and suicide, depression and a pervasive unhappiness climb, let us have an incredible lightening of the load and burden of shame. At our core, each human has infinite potential, is unblemished and is incapable of understanding shame for there is no shame, we are shameless. Shaming on the other hand serves the purpose of using an illustration or concept as an educational technique to promote deterrence. Speak up. Speak the truth, come what may. Try your best. This must be followed by concrete action that is based on a middle way that sets a positive chain of motion. With increasing numbers of judges, law enforcement and the public at large finding innovative ways to take action and enable collective change, I pledge my life as a person in the public spotlight to always being shameless.
Bais is a trauma-focused PhD Candidate in the world's first and only International Psychology Program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. As one of the most highly followed Indian models on twitter and avid Nichiren Buddhist, Bais travels around the world involved in humanitarian, social impact endeavours and connects the worlds of fashion, media, art, music, spirituality and psychology. Connect with Anjhula on International Psychology, Facebook and Website