# 327: Shame


Walbank, Frank. W. Polybius: Greek Historian.

Story behind the Passage

Maybe it is because I am currently reading St. Augustine’s Confessions or maybe these days are simply so extraordinarily transformational that they trigger strong and clear emotions. It does not really matter why exactly this topic has come up now but insights are always related to the feeling of shame in some way. It might be temporary and you know how to deal with it. Still, learning something new that is crucial for how you continue living your life also means knowing what you did not know up to this point. This just happened to me again.

For years, I have been thinking about doing a new research project on pragmatism. Now that pragmatism is more needed than ever in this political and social mess that we have all contributed to with our inaction and irresponsibility, I think about this every day. I have been collecting observations and insights about pragmatism throughout the past years. Now you even hear interviews with Taliban officials in which the word “pragmatic,” is used. I am not saying that the common usage of the term is what philosophers understand as pragmatism. And there are different versions of it, of course. Still, the everyday use of terms is never completely unrelated to the historical and linguistic roots. And that takes me to the major problem and insight that struck me.

The reason why I have not taken action concerning the research project is because, after all, it would be boring. After all, I read most of what was written about pragmatism in my academic field. Pragmatism is said to be the only truly American philosophy. That is because American philosophers made it prominent. Now that I have been learning that most scholarship in the recent decades, even centuries, has basically deteriorated into science communication because scholars research philosophers, literary writers, theologians, etc. but they do not PRACTICE these arts themselves anymore, I also realized that William James might have been a communicator more than a unique thinker and inventor. What I mean is that he probably wrote about something that had been there before. And this is where shame enters:

I never checked the Greek origins of the pragmatism.

I never tried to seriously detect where the philosophical roots are.

I never honestly tried to find who used the term first.

Today, as the concept of pragmatism kept resonating on my mind, I did a quick check on pragmatism with a particular focus on ancient and Greek philosophy as search terms. And that was it — I found that there was a pragmatism before the pragmatism of James and his American buddies in the 19th and early 20th century. The answer ist: Polybius. And the first lines I read about him already touch me so much, the intention behind his writing as didactic, his action as a statesman — I can hardly ignore all the connections to what I practice, what I stand for, and what is so dear to me. That makes it very clear what my next research topic will be: Polybius. But first, I am left with the feeling of shame that I did something that I constantly criticize: I copied whatever “common” knowledge there might be in our field; I did not move beyond it, I was ignorant to assume that pragmatism really only emerged that late in history. This is sad and pure stupidity. But I am glad, I have found out.

My Learnings

Wasting many years,

for things not worth pursuing.

So many hours,

Of dull talk.

An intellect mistaken,

A heart so misled.

Yes, shame is no solution,

No second of life is wasted,

I believe it,

I know it,

It does not ease the pain.

The gifted suffer more,

“You do not encounter,

What you cannot bear.”

Still, there is anger,

Why so blind?

Even humble intentions,

Led my astray.

Gratitude for seeing clearly,

Is a warm blessing.

Patience is the virtue

That is needed now.

And trust in the calling

That will soon come.

Whatever it takes,

It will be done.

The lesson I have learned,

Will not be repeated.

It has found its way,

Into flesh and bone.

Anything that comes,

Will bear this mark.

I am thankful for this –

painful reminder.

How stupidity strikes,

In the middle of ecstasy.

Decisions follow,

Quickly as always,

When truth comes to light,

And there is no doubt left,

Shame is a feeling,

That can set you free.

Like a road through the forest,

Bright and straight.

Some people have to go,

When you find yourself.

They do not matter,

What counts is to know,

What is bigger than you.

Shame can empower,

Moving forward not back,

Growing more than you think.

How small you make yourself,

In light of those,

Whose brains are tiny.

It all has a purpose,

We need it to grow,

Shame has its place,

If you learn to let go.

Reflection Questions

1) When did you last feel ashamed of yourself?

2) Are you pragmatic? Why/not?

3) Is there anything in your CV that you would like to “delete”? In how far could this same aspect also be seen in a positive light?