I heard a story once of a girl who, upon kissing her father goodbye at the airport, would each morning thereafter put on his last-worn shirt as she ate her breakfast. It was worn for a mix of pride, the longing for her dad, and as a visible prayer for his safety and safe return. And to those close enough to her, the knowledge of this practice was okay. But if it was to be revealed to others not so close, or in circumstances she couldn’t control, a vital breach of privacy would occur. She may feel exposed to being mocked. Then upon such an experience would be embarrassment; an uncontrolled exposure leading to feelings of shame.
Not that such love—the wearing of her father’s shirt—ought to reasonably produce such shame, but that is the nature of privacy. We only open up when it’s safe to do so.
For everyone, there’s a vital freedom in privacy.
Owning Many Sorts Of Embarrassment
The story of the girl above is a story close to the heart of every one of us. We each have ‘secrets’ highlighting places of our identities we make known to only a few; only a few get the gate pass into discreet corners of our hearts. When it comes to children, access to such otherwise hidden places are cherished, indeed. We don’t trample them.
A feature of our humanity is we open our hearts. Exposures producing embarrassment are bound to occur because we trust, and that trust isn’t always founded soundly.
These exposures of the soul’s secrets, elucidating the way we think and feel, that we may even struggle with, only prove embarrassing when they occur beyond our control. In the case of a child, he or she chooses to open his or her world by divulging inner information. We do the same. We choose who we’ll trust with what information. Our privacy is a controlled environment, and it’s only us who has the key. But our secrets of privacy are not bad secrets at all. They’re actually good things that we keep hidden with our discernment.
This is why, even though we’re embarrassed by uncontrolled exposures of our privacy, we shouldn’t feel shame at all, but, of course, we do.
There is an important twofold lesson in this regarding the emotion of shame. Firstly, whilst we shouldn’t feel shamed we often do, and this creates many other cascading anxieties. Secondly, the shame and embarrassment within uncontrolled exposure is inevitable, yet it’s not embarrassment because we’re wrong—though, somehow, we may feel it’s wrong.
The challenge, if we’re big enough, is to ‘own’ many sorts of embarrassment so that they wouldn’t damage us, like they may have damaged us as children upon uncontrolled exposure. Owning the rights to our privacy, and protecting same, is a vital freedom of self-respect.
Accepting that we own our rights of privacy is the hallmark of our humanity. We carefully select those we trust. And embarrassment for breaches of our privacy is an appropriate feeling. Privacy is a vital freedom we should, always, hope to respect.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.