What's it for?
Yesterday we looked at shame through the lens of problematic grabbing and the scent of maggoty chicken. In that version of the foolsletter I focused a fair bit on servers who love to use the term ‘grab’.
I have a special place in my heart for servers. I worked in restaurants for years. I have both loved and hated my work as a server. It didn’t matter the gig - whether I was a DJ, Banquet staff, nightclub bartender or serving fine dining, the restaurant industry was a brilliant place for a student of the human condition.
It was in the restaurant industry that the term ‘what’s it for’ became acutely important.
“Hey Andre, I need you to put a rush on that chicken sandwich.”
“What a chicken sandwich by itself - what’s it for?”
“You’re doing me a favour, I forgot it on the order and I forgot to punch it in. Can you help me out?”
Not who’s it for, but what’s it for. In the kitchen things were done to complete orders. Where does it go and what problem does the request fit? How does it work, or, in short, ‘what’s it for’?
New staff who worked on the floor with us learned the ‘what’s it for rule’ very quickly. Most, on their first or second shift were told: “We need a long stand. Please go to the bar next door. Ask the bartender for a long stand.”
The new staff would leave and not come back for quite a while. Some were never heard of again. There was no ‘long stand’. The new staff member would ask the bartender for one. The result? They would be told to wait. After a while someone would remark that they were standing there for a long time - or that they had experienced ‘a long stand.’
Now, if the new staff asked what the long stand was for, we could tell them it was to play along in a silly dominance / submission game in order to become part of our group.
That was playful shaming. And shaming none the less. Shame plays a vital role in our culture. What was it for? In the case of the long stand, it was a way that the established workers could feel like an ‘us’. Any new information or members of any group are always a threat to the status quo. The long stand hazing ritual established status roles, a pecking order and helped build trust within the group.
Shame promotes social cohesion. Shame promotes stability. When we do something that is outside of the values of the group we belong to, their disapproval can cause us to experience shame. And the shame shows in our bodies. Our gaze and heads turn down, our chest sinks and our arms rotate inward. The experience and expression of both humility and shame go hand in hand.
Shame does not promote innovation. We experience shame when we fail. We experience shame when we understand at a felt level that we are not perfect and that we’ve fallen short of an expectation. This can be something we expect from ourselves. This can be something expected of us by the group.
Shame can be super painful. Shame punishes the risk takers. I used to go and watch a lot of beginner improv and stand up comedy. At first I thought that these people who were on stage and just failing had no shame. Then I tried it. What I discovered was that comedians don’t lack shame. They experience boat loads of it. They just put up with it well. They know it’s the price of getting it right. Getting a laugh is getting it right.
And getting good means failing a lot. For years I dreamed of working as a street performer. I learned that you had to do 100 terrible, painful, bad and unprofitable performances in order to finally build an act that I could both be proud of and earn a living by doing.
Only a hundred shows and then I’d have something that I was proud of and could sell for the rest of my life? Geeze that seems like a shortcut these days. It goes to show that the shortcut is committing to, and doing the work.
And I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I was terrified of the shame. I wouldn’t face it. I chickened out. Sure, there were a LOT of practical reasons, er excuses, why I couldn’t build a street show or a stand up comedy act. The fundamental reason why I didn’t though? I had tried both and did not have the courage to face that level of shame.
I’m almost certain that you have some regrets, some missed opportunities, places where you held back because of fear of shame.
And it’s never too late. Not everyone is a comic or a street performer. Not everyone can endure that level of shame. And, frequently, the ability to get through the shame of coming up short is essential for any new, creative project.
You can just start.
If you’re feeling playful with your shame, you can publicly set goals - like writing a newsletter every day. That way the fear of shame can potentially be a motivating factor in order to continue to honour your promises.
Not that I would know anything about that at all.
Thanks for being in cahoots with me.
I’ve got at least one, maybe two shame stories in me before going back to writing about goals.
If there are things that you’d like me to write about - whether relationships at work or at home or about parenting or creativity or whatever, reply to this message and let me know.