My work on redefining learning and differentiating healthy and unhealthy learning is focused primarily on how children-selves learn to become adults-selves. Yet, adult learning exhibits the same central dynamics – especially when it comes to the role of shame in motivating or disabling learning. I share the following example hoping that it will resonate with you as an adult and perhaps help you learn (1st person) your way into a deeper understanding of the role of shame in your learning. The better you understand this, the better you understand one of the greatest impediments to children’s learning.
Earlier this week, I posted a piece called “NY Times: Doctors Suffer From Shame Disabled Learning Too“. This morning, Brian Lynch, the moderator of the “Affect Psychology” group on Facebook, sent out a notice of another doctor’s experience of shame disabled learning – this time in a very engaging TED Talk. Completely paralleling the NY Times piece, Dr. Brian Goldman’s TED talk also starts with a sketch of the mistakes he made that led to ‘near misses’ (medical errors that almost kill people). He then pivots to describe the shame he felt about his errors:
“Over the next few weeks, I beat myself up and I experienced for the first time the unhealthy shame that exists in our culture of medicine — where I felt alone, isolated, not feeling the healthy kind of shame that you feel, because you can’t talk about it with your colleagues. You know that healthy kind, when you betray a secret that a best friend made you promise never to reveal and then you get busted and then your best friend confronts you and you have terrible discussions, but at the end of it all that sick feeling guides you and you say, I’ll never make that mistake again. And you make amends and you never make that mistake again. That’s the kind of shame that is a teacher.
The unhealthy shame I’m talking about is the one that makes you so sick inside. It’s the one that says, not that what you did was bad, but that you are bad. And it was what I was feeling.
Like the NY Times piece, Dr. Goldman goes onto to describe the role shame plays in our medical system’s ‘complete denial of mistakes’.
Is this story familiar? Substitute doctors and medicine with your colleagues and your profession. Do you see the same dynamic disabling learning in you and your workplace?
Now think about the children. How can we ever hope to steward their healthy learning until we acknowledge and understand the role of shame in their learning?
Brian Goldman: Doctors make mistakes. Can we talk about that?