Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shame, humility, confidence, arrogance

"Americans are arrogant," a Swiss friend told me one day.

"You mean confident," I said, feeling defensive and very American in that moment. "The Swiss are so ashamed, they get in their own way." (By the way, being both American and Swiss, I usually defend whichever country I am not in physically.)

Since that conversation, I began reading books on shame and self-esteem and discovered that shame is the basis of addiction and leads to unhealthy behaviors and relationships.

One such book, written by shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. BrenĂ© Brown says: "Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It’s the most primitive human emotion we all feel—and the one no one wants to talk about. If left to its own devices, shame can destroy lives."

So if shame is bad, what is humility?

The Oxford American Dictionary defines humility as "the quality of having a modest or low view of one's importance." With humility, we see ourselves as equal to other human beings.

The teachings of the Shaolin monks say that humility makes us teachable, and as we are always learning, we should always keep our humility. I can't begin to tell you how many times my karate teachers have had to pull me down to earth whenever I have gotten too sure of myself, by pushing my limits and challenging me. And it was only then that my karate improved.

Swiss friends tell me they are surprised by the American ability to speak to total strangers in such an open and friendly way. I believe it has to do with American humility that is represented in the American Declaration of Independence and which says that "all men are created equal" and which I had to memorize in fifth grade.

In contrast, Europe still has that "class" mentality and titles, which create barriers between human beings.

Americans also have this "can do" attitude that makes dreams possible. The Swiss often put limits on their thinking. "But I don't have the certificate or education to do that," they say. You can say this represents realistic thinking, but it's also so limiting.

What causes this limiting thinking and inability to speak to strangers? I think it's shame, and I believe the culprit is an antiquated way of teaching in schools. It's punitive. It uses shaming techniques to motivate students.

My children experienced this type of punitive and shaming type of motivation in the mountain village schools, where they were told they were "dumb", "had no chances of succeeding in school," and were given meaningless sentences to copy hundreds of times as punishment, without being encouraged to address the organizational reasons why work wasn't getting done.

To my shock, I learned recently that this kind of teaching also exists in the Swiss cities. Three Swiss friends who have children in the Lausanne public schools told me that their children receive punishments and hate school and learning.

It's too bad that these schools cannot work on building children's self-esteem and instill a joy of learning. Perhaps, it would be too expensive and only private schools are able to offer this. No wonder so few Swiss public school students (30% nationally) go on to Gymnasium or to the Swiss equivalent of high school.

Unfortunately, the new American president-elect represents the arrogance that has given Americans such a bad reputation worldwide. Mr Trump would do well to copy the US Declaration of Independence a hundred times not as a punishment but as a learning tool.

Gone fishing — literally

As you may have noticed, I've been absent from the Swiss Alps, due to the fact that I've been fishing off the New England coast. T...