Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Shame

Last weekend, I met a most interesting individual on the racquetball court, of all places.

I belong to a community center that has a posting of racquetballers and phone numbers for other members to call and arrange games. Quite by happenstance, I happened to call a man to play who, I learned afterward, is a "transformational coach." After duly exchanging pleasantries and playing our match, we talked to each other about our respective trades with the odd ease that comes from being physically exhausted. He explained that, as a transformational coach, his role is to identify the role that negativity plays in his client's life, and then give that client the tools to turn that negativity in a positive direction. In a nutshell, his theory is that each of us has embedded in a sense of "shame" from childhood, and that shame motivates the core of our actions as adults.

I listened intently. Were he not moving out of the country soon, theoretically at least, I would be this guy's dream client.

I don't know what it is like to grow up in a normal American clan, but I can assure you that this man is onto something regarding the familial hand I drew. Those of us who have grown up around alcoholics know something about shame, let me tell you. In the Sticks, there really is no such thing as privacy. For instance, if the old man is slumped in a snowy ditch with his head leaned against the steering wheel of his pickup, while your school bus rides by with the other kids looking out the window and pointing, shame becomes part of the air you breathe. Catch a kid from an alcoholic family past a certain age, and you'll likely find someone who knew shame when shame wasn't cool, before it even had a fancy word like "shame."

Rural America in the 1970's did not offer much in the way of "transformational coaches," but it did offer books. Looking back, I probably owe some consulting fees to James Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain.