As I embark on the thought experiment I call the creativity project which will not be in any way systematic, but a set of explorations from various perspectives around topics of creativity, spirituality, and imagination I am going to start in what many will initially think is an unusual place: shame. Brené Brown’s work on shame has been one of the most revealing perspectives in what limits or destroys our capacity for creativity. Shame as Brené defines it is:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging. (Brown, 2007, p. 4)(emphasis author’s)
Shame is that emotion that tells us that we are unworthy, unloved or unloveable, it can allow an action or another’s perspective to define who we are in our own eyes. It shouldn’t be surprising that this incredibly powerful fear can dampen if not kill creativity for an individual or an organization and that it can also by extension powerfully effect spirituality. In Brené Brown’s book I Thought It Was Just Me she makes this insightful comment which is well worth the two paragraphs it spans:
I did see important patterns and themes in terms of how women experienced their faith and spirituality. For example, the women who talked about feeling shame used the words church and religion more. The women who talked about resilience used the terms faith, spirituality and beliefs more. At first I wondered if there was a connection between “organized religion” and shame. I didn’t find one. At least half of the women who used the terms faith, spirituality, and beliefs attended church and were members of an organized religion.
What did become clear to me is this: It is the relationship that women have with God, their higher power or their spiritual world that often serves as the source of resilience. The essence of resilience, in a spiritual sense, is about relationship, spirit and faith. For many women, spiritual connection is essential to shame reliance. In fact, over half of the women, who, as children, experienced deep shame around religion developed shame resilience by forging new spiritual paths. They may have changed churches or their beliefs, but spirituality and faith remain an important part of their lives. Another pattern that emerged is the belief that faith is about nurturing our best selves and shame moves us away from that purpose. The sources of shame seem much more connected to earthly, man-made and interpreted rules and regulations and social-community expectations around religion (Do you go to church regularly? Are you loyal to your family religion? Are you raising your kids a certain way? Are you breaking rules that might shame the family or the community? Do you know your place as a woman?). (Brown, 2007, p. 259f)
Brené’s later two works, The Gift of Imperfection (Brown, 2010) and Daring Greatly (Brown, 2012) (which I blogged about in the posts Daring Greatly, Cultures of Scarcity, and Shame on You) she moves to the concept of vulnerability as the characteristic that people who feel loveable (and are able to move beyond their shame) share. This vulnerability allows people to be courageous, compassionate and connected with others. In contrast fear, disengagement and yearning for more courage may come out of an environment’s or an individual’s shame. For example when shame is a management style “engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.” (Brown, 2012, p. 14)
As we think about the type of community’s that will nurture creativity and spirituality for the coming generations we need to pay close attention to the ways shame, fear, manipulation and coercion are used. Do we have communities where people are valued for their conformity or for their individuality? Do we have communities where people feel they need to fit in (shame is the fear of being disconnected)? Can we be a place where not only failure but forgiveness is an option? Do churches begin to reflect the culture of scarcity we experience in the world around us or can we dare greatly and trust greatly in the abundance that is found in our own faith?
The reality is that many if not all communities and individuals have a long way to go in nurturing a climate of acceptance, connection, resilience and support, faith and spirituality. It is a journey that we must undertake if we are really going to be about helping people in their relationship with God and with one another. The likelihood is that on the journey there will be many failures, many times where we will need to be forgiven for returning to shame for motivation, and hopefully on the way we may all grow both more courageous and more vulnerable and more resilient to the shame which dampens our creativity and spirituality.
I’ve included another of Brené Brown’s talks and I love the comment she makes that “Faith-vulnerability=extremism, that faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty…spirituality is inherently vulnerable.”