A Herd of Narcissists, Part 1

I’ve touched on the issue of shame twice now in recent articles. It’s because I believe it is a powerful tool for both good and evil.

When I refer to shame as a tool I mean that the evocation of it, whether self-generated or externally prompted, often triggers one of two responses: a self-correcting mechanism (I won’t do that again) or a self-corrosive mechanism (I’m no good). Brené Brown differentiates between guilt and shame by saying that guilt is attached to our actions while shame is attached to our identity. It’s the difference between doing wrong (Ooops) and being wrong (I’m such an idiot).

I sometimes experience a helpful form of shame when I drive carelessly, and my desire to avoid that feeling is probably what keeps me from doing it too often. On the other hand, being unfairly targeted or thrown into a bewildering conflict seems to evoke a different kind of shame. I’m talking about those times when I’m being treated as the source of a problem instead of just part of it.

Here’s an example: Driving to work one morning, I inadvertently swerved into a neighbouring lane on a one-way street. I corrected myself immediately, but another driver, who was behind me and in that lane, [...] continue the story


When I met Sheila Wessenberg, she was living the American nightmare. She had a potentially fatal illness, but because she was uninsured her life seemed expendable. She said to me, “”There is no reason why anyone should be shoved into homelessness and helplessness just to live.”” She was referring to the fact that she could only get publicly funded health care if she gave up her home and her car. In the meantime, her doctor had abandoned her and she had already gone seven months with no chemotherapy.