I’ve mentioned Brene Brown’s work before, but I want to share a story I heard her tell that changed my marriage and my work. I first heard it on Krista Tippett’s wonderful podcast, On Being, last December.
She tells a story of a man in a yellow golf jacket who approached her after a talk on shame.
“I noticed you don’t talk about men,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t study men,” she replied–although you really should listen to her tell the story
“That’s convenient,” he told her. “Because men have shame. But before you talk about all those mean fathers and coaches, let me tell you that my wife and daughters, who you just signed books for, would rather see me die on my white horse than get down off it.”
I was riding home from a visit to my mom’s house with my wife and daughters when I heard this, and I stopped the podcast.
“Did you hear that?” I asked my my wife.
“Yeah.” She said, kind of casually, like “ok, what’s the big deal?” ( I should interject here. Contrary to what people usually say about men and women and feelings, I am the drama king in my marriage. My wife is less reactive, more able to take the long view, and much more able to hold on to perspective when things get heated. I need to take breaks to get my head back on when I get upset. She may have suspected I was having a moment.)
“I’m not laying any blame on you for this, but that thing she just said–that phrase about you would rather see me die on my white horse than come down off it–that is maybe the truest thing I have ever heard about about the way I and my friends experience shame.” My voice was thick. It is so hard to say those things out loud.
OK, guys, here’s the dirty little secret:
Shame keeps us silent and distant from our loved ones and our lives and our best, strongest selves by getting us to believe one big lie: It is not OK to be weak or to let people think you are weak.
I sit with lots of men and teen boys in my practice. And I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth or tell anyone’s secrets, but let me just say one thing about men: I’m convinced that this shame is one of the root causes of much of the violence, aggression, depression, disengagement, emotional unavailability, blowing off school, disrespect for women, and materialistic greed we see in men and boys.
Guys, we have got to start talking about it. Shame dies when we say it out loud to a person who cares enough to look us in the eye and say , “yeah man, me too.”
Maybe I’m being a drama king again, but I really think this is how we change the world for the better.