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Challenging the Anti-Shame Zeitgeist

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner 2012)

by Joseph Burgo

In response to a spate of teen suicides last year, a number of celebrities (Anne Hathaway, Justin Timberlake, Ellen DeGeneres, and others) used their visibility to castigate people who bully others. When public figures denounce bullying, they draw attention to the power of shame: A victim’s experience at the hands of a bully can be so excruciating that life becomes unendurable.

Bullying used to be more or less acceptable behavior, a part of “kids being kids,” but in recent years our culture has grown increasingly intolerant of those who shame others for their differences…. Everywhere we look, pride is on the march, and shame is on the run.

Andrew Solomon’s powerful new book Far From the Tree is the most recent expression of this anti-shame zeitgeist. He details the often heroic efforts of parents to make sure their children don’t suffer from the shame usually associated with a disability or sexual difference. He describes gay men and women, little people, deaf and blind people, transgendered individuals, and other groups who insist that their difference is not a disability or defect. Instead, they view their condition as an equal alternative to “normal,” and nothing to be ashamed of. Solomon writes with passion and empathy about their struggles to develop feelings of self-worth by rejecting the shame of social stigma and embracing pride. …

(To read the full article, please visit The Atlantic.)