Opinion: Shame is the new growth

by Israel Raphael

It was the summer of 1990-something.

I had just failed mathematics in one of my high school terminal examinations. Again.

I was too ashamed to bring my report card home. I would get scolded by my father. I would also get beaten with a cane or a belt. It was known.

You may not be aware but, ermm, African parents do not quite appreciate F’s. If you have an F in your report card, pause wherever you are, change your lineage then vaporise.

I got the scolding. I got the beating. And I failed maths again the following term. Oh, the shame. Hidden in this sense of shame is a gift that keeps on giving.

Over the nearly two decades that followed, I learned some valuable realisations which became lessons that continue to translate to profit.

Firstly, We Are Afraid Of Shame…

…Even before we know what and how we’re going to go about our business.

Think about it deeply, and you realise you’re not afraid of failing. You’re afraid of the shame associated with failing.

You imagine that look people will give you. That quick dim of their pupils that speechlessly utters the dreaded words, “you failed”.

From the great beyond of a chin down and face covering full fringe, you can see through their sorrys. Every salutation is a pity-wilted flower tossed at your graveside.

But you’re not quite dead.

You can smell their sneers and feel your knees wobble as you do your walk of shame. You feel the broken glass prick your feet with a thousand tiny shards of pain as you walk.

However, there is no broken glass. There is only Tianamen square — the same acres of open ground holding up your jesters is peering right up between your legs, snickering at your dark convoluted embarrassment.

But instead of finding a way like Cersei, to recruit and equip child soldiers who’ll literally at your bidding bomb out the city from under your adversaries, you abandon your phone and laptop and acquire quite appreciable skill at wiping your digital footprint.

You failed and the shame is much to bear.


Imagine we lived in a world where no one looked down on you, scolded you for not getting it right, or for not succeeding.

Imagine that what you get is a back pat, or some reinvestment, and lots of encouragement to try again-and-again when you failed at anything.

If you were raised like this, be honest with yourself, would you be so bothered about shame?

Let’s take something…hmmm, say writing for example.
Aren’t we afraid we won’t be able to write a good piece, one that people would like? We are afraid of that one typographical error, afraid that after typing our heart’s best, we’ll check back to see 2 likes and 0 shares.

We’re afraid of landing in some social or literary faux pax, afraid of raising some unintended, religious, cultural or political dust with our street sweeping penning style.

This fear is a fear of SHAME.

The fear of embarrassment – that people would find us incapable or judge us unintelligent, unlovable, inadequate, unsellable.

This fear of shame keeps most of us in the ‘false safety’ of not doing.

This not doing,
is our undoing.

We’re not trees. Doing is how we grow.

Secondly, We Are Forgetful…

Remember that time when you began riding a bicycle or tree climbing? Remember how many times you fell and grazed your elbows and knees trying to get it right? You don’t.

Do you remember exactly how many girls turned you down or didn’t even give you a chance before you met the one who said “yes”? You probably don’t.

Do you remember exactly how many times you almost choked to death on some food or drink you were having? Again, you don’t.

You do not remember!

And that has led to your success.

And because of this default setting of forgetfulness, you band-aided and bandaged your elbows and knees and kept on riding. Your red face didn’t deter you from another climb until you found your expert grip.

All the No’s in the world couldn’t stop you from finding your lady. Pitch, whack, home run! You made it!

And you have also gone beyond the potentiality of death at the table to become the ultimate global master of the Coke and Burger.


But you’re forgetting something…

You’re forgetting, quite ironically that your ability to forget can be tuned to apply to just about anything.

Why can’t you forget your financial mistake… and reinvest more intelligently?

Why can’t you forget your failure… and keep trying?

Why can’t you forget your fear and by that, your shame? Why can’t you realise that — after all, that time is not this time. That day is not this day.

Because We have. Been. Programmed. To fear shame *** and shame makes us selectively forget.

PS: This might even in some way apply to Whoopi for finding the courage to keep remarrying — she’s in her 3rd marriage in 5 years I hear (or is it 5th on 3rd) almost sounds like a busy New York street.

. . .

Thirdly, we’re just steak.

I have been to only a few funerals in my life.

Those and my sophomore year study of comparative anatomy and physiology have humbled me enough for one lifetime.

They have led to one conclusion – Man is just meat. He thinks, he talks, and so concludes he is better than a well-dressed piece of steak.

We think…

And this thinking is our problem.

We think we are better than others.

Deep down, we know this ‘thinking’ is a problem so we have to invent something to justify it because guess what, that thinking brings us some power.

It is an evil power but we love it.

So we come up with “pedigree”, “class”, “race”, “tribe”, “elite”, and the other Oxford’s words of bullshit to describe why our problematic thinking should be cleared for Education Secretary.

We do all that because those things support our pride and ego. We have aircraft carrier sized egos because we’re all faulty and the less faulty have no power, money or guts to stand up to the more faulty ones and say enough!

The thing with pride and ego is this — they’re paralysed. They always need support. I have never met anyone who supported their pride and ego on pure nothing. I’ve never met someone who didn’t have anything to kindle that pride and was still proud. I don’t believe such a person exists.

And so we acquire means to support that lame ego. We join exclusive clubs, buy enormous toys, acquire beige tastes and invest in grey areas because we feel safe in the cocoon of “up here, far removed from them down there”.

Even deeper, we do that because we want to get further away from anyone who might have the audacity to call us out on our nonsense.

Oh the shame, and here it is, the shame we will feel if the world were to know we are insecure, sometimes heartbroken, prone to very stupid mistakes, inordinately lash out, really not that brilliant and yes, we shit stooping down like everyone else.

The lesson is obvious. If an emotion does not let you grow, you must let it go. It is useless, unprofitable…and in every sense of that word, a mark of the highly irresponsible to hang on to such a way.

Do not let shame stop you. Shame is an opportunity to recognise what you need to forget. Forget it!

Find. New. Connections.

The point of trials is not that you’re tried. It’s that you do not lose your ability to re-try.

Shower. Meet. Greet. Engage. Unlearn. Bend. Relearn. Divest. Reinvest.

Shame is only fuel for growth.

Shame is the cost of being fallen sentients;
not a reason to recoil, smother and ultimately wither.

You must forget shame and grow.

Even if you’re a celebrity being hung naked, battered and bleeding on a wooden cross in front of the whole world, yes live on CNN, for a crime you didn’t commit – that too is growth but only to the discerning eye.

You may wait to live and learn this truth at old age. Or greatly shorten your learning curve and increase your chances of having a more profitable life by accepting this truth in your youth that

Shame really is growth.

And growth is profit.

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If you enjoyed reading this piece, please be so kind as to share and recommend to others. Also, please consider following me on Medium! I’m so grateful for your support as I continue to dream and live out my journey. I fully support yours. Keep Going!

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Disclaimer: This writing engages use of metaphors and allegories that are figurative and to all intents and purposes purely literary. The author does not support the use of child soldiers or any such activity as is deemed criminal or terrorist by any domestic or international laws.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Israel Raphael is a business developer & content strategist. He is the Author of bit.ly/30BPS and Startup founder. He’s been a scientist, engineer, and more recently musician.

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