Sussing Out Shame

This isn’t really Act III, but rather an aside. A bonus. A trundle of thoughts, if you will, that try to get at the issues I addressed in the previous Letting Myself Off the Hook acts.

Ah, for shame.

It’s an elusive concept, something I really don’t understand. I do know that I often feel shame when I don’t know things. What things?

Gosh, anything I think I should know. Or that I think others think I should know.

Things I think I should know a lot about.

  • current events/news
  • politics
  • American history
  • world history
  • classical music
  • types of flowers
  • dog breeds
  • kinds of foods
  • cooking techniques
  • geography
  • religion
  • very popular things

It’s interesting because some things I’m okay with not knowing, because I don’t expect myself to know them (partly because I don’t think others expect me to know much about them). 

Things I am okay not knowing much about.

  • cars
  • computers
  • household repairs
  • music genres (except classical)
  • science
  • math
  • different cultures
  • taxes

This is actually a great exercise in confronting my discomfort about not knowing stuff. When I elevate each subject to a bullet, it brings to the fore just how arbitrary the items I think I should (or in turn, that I don’t expect myself to) know are.

Where did I get these topics? What is their unique origin story? For surely they must all have one.

I can tell one of these stories.

The oh my god I can’t believe I don’t know this I must be so uncouth and uneducated-current events topic originates from an experience in high school. My super smart friend – who believed I was also super smart and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t in the Gifted & Talented program with her (yet another source of shame) – had us compile a montage of stories of the year for the school newspaper (which we both wrote for).  As she listed off each major global news event (and they were major because I looked them up, full of shame, later), I either expressed ignorance about the event or it was clear I wasn’t familiar with what had been happening in the world all year.

I don’t remember all the details, and I certainly don’t remember my friend’s saying anything directly to me about the not knowing, but I do recall

turning red and feeling tremendous shame at not knowing these things.

I berated myself and for a long time afterward, I vowed to read the newspaper diligently every day, so that I would know about things if someone asked. Not because I was genuinely interested in current events, but because I had learned that I was expected to know certain things, especially given how smart people thought I was.

That was a lesson that has stuck with me and influenced my behavior. I do realize much of my fear of being exposed as ignorant is self-made and self-perpetuated; however, as I’ve mentioned before, I know people who have a tendency of boasting about knowing things, and scolding others for not knowing. I’ve experienced it, and I’ve seen it. And I’m not just saying that because I’m highly sensitive. I know this happens.

So in the spirit of letting myself off the hook, what next?

Well, the first step, which I’ve taken, is acknowledging the lists of things I think I should know or that I’m okay with not knowing. If possible, it would probably help to figure out where each comes from. Their origin stories may reveal the reasons behind my knowledge-shame. I won’t spend years tracking each of them down, though. I’m a firm believer in accepting the state of mind I am in now, and not always trying to thoroughly resolve past hurts. So at some point, I’ll move forward and…

…and what? What do I do with these lists? When a topic comes up about which I feel I should be well-versed (especially in a social group), what do I do?

Fake it until I make it?

Conjure up a different personae to issue a public diatribe?

Take a moment to reason with myself, thinking about what I do know, and let the rest fall away, including other people’s stuff around knowledge (because I can’t be the only one with knowledge issues)?

I don’t know!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Taking the Learning Out of the Classroom « Dawnrey

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