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The Problem

October 14, 2008 | NeW

At our last NeW meeting at ASU, we discussed Chapter 1 from A Return to Modesty. The chapter is rightfully titled, “The War on Embarrassment.”

Shalit introduces her discussion on modesty with her stories about when she was exempt from 4th Grade Human Growth and Development class and from the embarrassing questions that Mrs. Nelson posed. Although the class was told not to ” ‘be embarrassed . . . there is absolutely nothing to giggle about,’ ” Shalit said she was determined to be as embarrassed as possible.

She writes in retrospect:

“Children are now urged to overcome their ‘inhibitions’ before they have a clue what an inhibition means. Yet embarrassment is actually a wonderful thing, signaling that something very strange or very  significant is going on, that some boundary is being threatened – either by you or by others. Without embarrassment, kids are weaker: more vulnerable to pregnancy, disease, and heartbreak.”

After reading this, I have been more purposely thinking about embarrassment in human sociology and psychology. Is it really important? No one ever likes to be embarrassed. And yet because of embarrassment, there are certain things that we as humans refuse to do. Embarrassment seems to act like a sociological fence or boundary that protects us from harming ourselves, or more specifically, our self-image.

Here’s a note from Cal Thomas about boundaries in society:

“Boundaries define everything from football fields to nation-states, yet our culture has pretended it could violate boundaries in human relationships without serious consequences.”
Do you have any stories about the function of boundaries and what kind of consequences result without them? Or do you agree or disagree with Shalit, that “withouth embarrassment, kids are weaker”?

For the subsequent weeks, let’s plan on reading one chapter each week. To stay on schedule, we will be discussing chapter 2 next week.

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