In light of a theme that seems to run through a few of my recent posts, I was struck today when reading this quote from page 204 of J.D. Vance’s excellent book “Hillbilly Elegy.” It’s relevance is clearly universal, but here it is used as a singular realization he had while attending Yale law school.
He was referring to the lies he told the other students about his upbringing, inventing them to hide the shame of his background of poverty and “hillbilly culture.” I’m thinking also of my close friend who was raised in an orphanage, yet didn’t actually tell me that for almost ten years, sticking instead to fabricated family he had made up to hide the “shame” of being an orphan. I use quotation marks because, of course, there was no shame at all in his circumstance, beyond that which he had imposed on himself.
Shame is crippling, yet it is largely something we impose on ourselves. It begs the question: What would happen if we were able to live and function without it?
Which immediately brings to mind another book I am reading, “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. This book, which was written 18 years ago while Anthony was still working as a chef, is so nakedly unashamed it is breathtaking. He had no idea at the time of publication what effect it might have on his career, indeed, in the forward he wonders if he will still be able to work after it’s publication.
In it he chronicles in great detail his character flaws, weaknesses, shortcomings, and limitations as a professional chef. He is quite open about his wasted decades of substance abuse, all of the people he let down, and his general failings as a human being. His honesty is so raw you can’t help but be impressed by his humanity.
And what effect did this utter lack of shame have?
It led to to the most acclaimed and universally admired success he had ever experienced. His brutal nakedness and lack of shame led directly to achievement beyond which he could ever have imagined.
Food for thought.