Harding shook his head. “I don’t think I can give you an answer. Oh, I could give you Freudian reasons with fancy talk, and that would be right as far as it went. But what you want are the reasons for the reasons, and I’m not able to give you those. Not for the others, anyway. For myself? Guilt. Shame. Fear. Self-belittlement. I discovered at an early age that I was—shall we be kind and say different? It’s a better, more general word than the other one. I indulged in certain practices that our society regards as shameful. And I got sick. It wasn’t the practices, I don’t think, it was the feeling that the great, deadly, pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me—and the great voice of millions chanting, ‘Shame. Shame. Shame.’ It’s society’s way of dealing with someone different.” (307)In this passage, Kesey writes about how shame can bully individuals that are different in society. We will discuss this passage in class next time we meet.
The first time I read this passage it did not click for me. The beauty of teaching, and rereading books, is that we are constantly learning, unlearning, and relearning. The theme of shame had not resonated in my first reading nor my first teaching of this novel ten years ago.
Yet after watching Brown's TED talks, I recognized my own fear of vulnerability (Watch "Power of Vulnerability") and the way in which shame has driven me in my own life. I admit that using the first person and sharing this post with you makes me uncomfortable since I feel vulnerable, so I will direct your attention back to the text and to Brown's point about gender:
The other thing you need to know about shame is it's absolutely organized by gender. If shame washes over me and washes over Chris, it's going to feel the same. Everyone sitting in here knows the warm wash of shame. We're pretty sure that the only people who don't experience shame are people who have no capacity for connection or empathy. Which means, yes, I have a little shame; no, I'm a sociopath. So I would opt for, yes, you have a little shame. Shame feels the same for men and women, but it's organized by gender.Since reading "A&P,"we have discussed stereotypes, particularly in terms of gender as well as the power of empathy, one of the freshman themes for the school year - thank you, Dean Willis. Remember the first TED Talk I shared "Be a Man" by Joe Ehrmann.
In order to appreciate this novel fully, I want you to consider expanding your horizon and your understanding of mental illness through these nine TED talks in the playlist "All kind of minds" - this is not required but merely a challenge to learn more. Perhaps, over break you will have time to watch them. I believe you will find them enlightening and even inspiring.
Lastly, I realize I have been reluctant to share and open up fully at a new school - like a new kid wading into the shallow end of the pool - afraid of the deep end. So heres' to going there - together as freshmen at EA.
As some of you know I lost my brother Conor to suicide in 2000. He had struggled with bipolar for eight years, beginning when he was hospitalized at the age of 15 for a manic episode.
Please consider watching my own talk on mental illness. In 2011, I was the keynote address at a walk for the Suicide Prevention's Education Alliance. No one wants to talk about suicide and mental illness, especially in front of a crowd of almost 2000 people, but I am glad I stepped outside of my comfort zone since sharing has helped others.