Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Being Afraid, A Lot

We're preoccupied with how others think of us.  I read some Irving Goffman and enough sociology to link impression management, particularly the concept of the "generalized other" (Mead) to understand that we almost always operate with the notion of audience. 

That makes sense, since we are often in groups and have been throughout history, and because of high intricate inter-subjective understandings, like language, that must be met. 

Fear, in this context, doesn't just operate to warn us of potential [life-threatening] danger, but also of potential social gaffe.  We've developed, for better or worse, social norms that keep us feeling embarrassment then shame to signify that we've done something wrong.  We don't generally want to harm other people, both because we want them to think of us kindly, and also because we don't want them to harm us, given reversed conditions.

At times, though, I think our normal sensory signal of embarassment or shame can become disproportionate and overwhelming, so that we, as individuals, imbue a sheen of negativity over all of our actions that keeps them under a certain rubric or narrative, that, in short, keeps us on the losing end of our own [self-]perceptions.    I think that there are a large barrage of reasons why these feelings may manifest that range in intensity which may or may not proportionately correlate to shame. 
The funny thing is that it is hard to quantitatively judge embarrassment or shame absent talking to lots and lots of people to get an idea of what they think about the situation. 

The take-home point here is that it is hard to talk about this stuff precisely because we want to avoid it--why reveal potentially embarrassing information about our actions to others?  Only if they might affirm our behavior, or if we really trust that they have a higher opinion of our cumulative previous actions and personality that supersedes what we're going to tell them.  And that's a tough one to get through right there.  It is a large immediate hurtle.  Easier to doubt oneself over time and find solace in the isolation of the world, in oppression, and get righteous about all of the wrongs. 

I noticed that a friendly large German shepherd we often see (named "Hera") always barks at us like mad at first. Her long ears bend back and her tail sinks beneath her legs, and she makes a terrifying noise. I get scared, then I try to reach out and pet her against my instinct.  It was hard to do that the first time. 

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