Unpublished: Looking Like a Donkey

St. Francis once asked his followers to tie a rope around his neck and lead him around like a donkey. It was an act of public self-mortification peculiar to Francis's spirituality and leadership style. It was his way of combating pride.

The other day I was thinking about that incident in Francis's life.

I can't speak for every blogger, but I often struggle with self-image and presentation. With what "people think about me."

Online and in real life I often struggle with having the last word or the final answer or the correct opinion. Consequently, when a post of mine is criticized for being in error or lacking in nuance or contradictory or not in keeping with my professed values I start to struggle with ego issues. I want to argue back and push back. And my goal in pushing back isn't the pursuit of truth but the restoration of my self-image, mainly in the eyes of others. And if I can't effectively address the concern then I feel like there is this loose end, a blot on my self-image record.

All this is totally neurotic and self-absorbed. I know this and recognize it as a temptation. So how to deal with it? This question made me think about St. Francis.

What Francis was doing is what the famous psychologist Albert Ellis called a shame-attacking exercise. Ellis would often have clients who were socially crippled because of their neurotic anxiety to do some weird thing in public. The classic example is pulling a banana around on a string. If you did that in public you'd get some funny looks and people might think you're a bit daft. But that's the point of the exercise: So what? So you get some funny looks and people think you're odd. Who cares? By attacking the shame you come to see that it's no big deal. You being to relax and stop caring so much about what people think about you.

And here's the paradox in all this:

When you stop caring so much about what people think of you you become more open to what they have to say.

When you're motivated by shame and self-presentation you have to win and always be right. Image trumps learning, which generally involves being wrong and corrected in public. That's the paradox.

The more you care about what people think of you the less you listen to people. Conversely, the less you care about what people think of you the more you'll listen and learn from them.

--an unpublished post about self-presentation and shame attacking

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