I'm not sure whether I should admit this or not, but there's no point in having a newspaper column if you don't share embarrassing things about yourself, so here's a little nugget for you:
I have some thoughts I am ashamed of.
Oh, you were hoping for more detail? Well, sorry to disappoint. Besides, whatever I'm actually ashamed of probably isn't as interesting as whatever you could come up with. Maybe I want to be a pretty pretty princess, or maybe all of my fantasies involve creme brulee. But the specifics are less important than the fact that I'm troubled by the idea that I am ashamed of my thoughts. In other words, I'm ashamed of being ashamed.
A friend of mine recently pointed me toward a video of a TED talk about shame and vulnerability. For those of you who are unfamiliar, TED talks generally involve a fancy academic person giving a short talk based around one central idea they have come up with which is greatly oversimplified. Many of these talks can be watched on the Internet, which is convenient for getting the word out about them, since the number of people who will travel around to attend lectures is a lot smaller than you might suspect.
Anyway, in the video I saw, there was a woman speaking about shame and vulnerability. And her oversimplified idea was that we view vulnerability as weakness, but vulnerability is actually a sign of courage. Now, I think there are good reasons for both of these things. For example, one reason we view vulnerability as weakness might be the fact that when you look up "vulnerability" in the dictionary, the second definition is "weakness." In other words, we view things that way largely because that's the way things are.
As for vulnerability being a sign of courage, that makes partial sense, too. For example, if two knights were fighting and one of them decided not to wear any armor, that would be a definite vulnerability. It could also be called courage. Or it could be called stupidity or suicidal tendencies. I guess it depends on how you look at it.
Regardless, the main argument this woman was making was when we reveal vulnerability, we feel ashamed. But when we see people on stage or in public revealing their vulnerabilities, we feel they are being courageous in braving the emotional risk of exposure. So we shouldn't feel ashamed of revealing vulnerability.
Naturally, this made me feel totally ashamed of feeling ashamed. And I thought I'd try to get over that by revealing in this public space the vulnerability that I am ashamed of. Namely, that I am ashamed of things.
But then I remembered that TED talks are oversimplified. And that there is probably a point at which revealing vulnerabilities stops being courageous and starts becoming a bad idea. If I overcome my shame to reveal that I get nervous at parties because I'm bad at small talk, it's possible that showing this vulnerability is courageous and might have you empathize with me a little more because you see me as more human. Whereas if I overcome my shame to reveal that I get nervous at parties because I am the weakest person in the world and I am terrified that everyone will beat me up and also I'm afraid of spiders, ants, lightbulbs, carpets and the color blue, plus I lose control of my bowels whenever I hear the word "watermelon," this does not make you view me as courageously human. This just makes you think I am a giant weirdo.
My conclusion is that not all vulnerability should be shared. So I shouldn't have been ashamed of being ashamed. In fact, I'm ashamed that I was.
Seth Brown is a local humor writer, the author of "It Happened In Rhode Island" and is ashamed to have written this column. His work appears weekly in the Transcript and weakly on RisingPun.com.