Wednesday, January 4, 2012


To be capable of embarrassment is the beginning of moral consciousness. Honor grows from qualms.
-John Leonard, critic (1939-2008)

So that there quote was attached to the word of the day (nutate, if you must know). I find that quote kind of astonishing, in the sense that it is startling. "Honor grows from qualms." Although it strikes me that there is some element of truth, the over-all statement is just so monolithic. Yes, I know it is taken out of context.

I'd never equate, at least spontaneously, embarrassment with any kind of morality, so I am internally searching for what might make that so.

I suppose the other reason this struck me is that I have been thinking quite a bit about the professional mistakes, missteps, bad judgement calls, I might have made. More often than not, they were momentary reactions. I think I am embarrassed by some things that took place, but I don't feel that morality or moral consciousness played any part. Consciousness of the self, yes, I think I acted without a clear idea of what I was doing or even more, why. But morality? Maybe I misunderstand morality then.

One project involved an animated video for a reggaeton artist. The content was puerile and sexist. I had to keep one of the female animators, (admittedly a bit of a hothead, but she wasn't wrong), cheered and calmed as the work was so demeaning. We both needed the money as did the studio, so what could we do? Swallow our rage and do the best we could and soldiered on.

For me, this was all exacerbated by the client who was also a sexist and treated me inappropriately. My employers didn't really want to deal with the clients either, so I was left to behave as professionally as I could. With the pressures of a short schedule, not enough resources, and a director who had another job and wasn't around to do this one, it was very difficult to see what the hell to do to improve or manage the situation. I still don't see what else could have been done.

As I stumble along trying to get a new and positive perspective on how to present myself in the job market, I revisit others of my staff jobs and think about how things might have developed differently. Mostly I seek what I needed to see about myself and my employers, all of whom were good people, in over their heads and not skilled in management. I think these couple of years working from home have been good for getting perspective and healing from some of the intensity of production work.

And for those of you keeping score, it was just too cold to go out yesterday as I didn't really need to, so no walk. But I did do restorative yoga before I went to bed which I imagine is a depression fighter. And the mood elevation is the main reason for the walk.

1 comment:

  1. I find the out of context use of the quotation hard to react to, except on the gut level i'm not sure it's true. I think that Hegel said that embarrassment is the beginning of moral consciousness, but that there were other stages in the process. Seeing morality as a social or emotional process doesn't entirely work for me, since I have become so introverted that I operate on an internalized "guilt-based" morality. I'm not too affected by shame but I do avoid being judged by others. I think I have been most severely judged negatively for two things: getting old and getting fat. These are an unavoidable and an avoidable "sin" which for me have no moral content. The kind of thing I find appropriate to judge morally is considering what would happen if everyone behaved the same. Killing is wrong in most instances because it would decimate the population, theft would close down commerce, being cruel to others could lead to people being depressed and even suicidal, etc.

    Teaching seeks to make students internalize values, knowledge, not seek external validation. Yet so much of it is based on negative reinforcement. I tend to believe the negative can work if it is something the student can control (being late, missing class) but won't work if s/he is stupid or lacking ability. Embarrassing someone comes in the category of negative reinforcement. The master or employer embarrasses the slave or employee as a technique of control. I also read a jewish philosopher who said that embarrassment was the source of religion! but the master, employer or teacher uses negative reinforcement a lot for motives unrelated to morality but rather to control or convenience.