I don't know if you've been around long enough to know what potpourri is. Basically it's a mix of dried, sweet smelling plants and stuff thrown in a pretty bowl to make your house smell nice. It was all over 'tasteful homes' in the 1990s.
Mark told me about a friend of his who was meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time at a cocktail party. He was nervous and wanted to make the best impression. Suited and booted he turned up in his best behavior. Everything was going well until - the very pinnacle of sophistication - he reached into a bowl of potpourri thinking it was some form of fancy nut snack.
When he realized his mistake, he carried on crunching the twigs in his mouth until he could swallow, like there was nothing at all unusual. He knew he had to front it out, because if he showed shame he was done for. And in fact, in his audacity, he went so far as to advise another guest to “stay away from those nuts as they’re a bit bitter”
As a result, the parents found him, 'interesting’.
It's been a quiet week here at Tweddley Manor as I’ve been down with some cold/flu combo. Though I am full of gratitude for a warm safe place to have the lurgy in, the truth is I am a terrible patient.
I like to get stuff done. I am - as they say- a doing person. It's a pain in the arse. For me and for everybody. So I just kept going even though my brain felt fried and my body like it had taken a good kicking.
I finally sat down when Mark and the kids pointed out that my ‘resilience’ was just making everyone uncomfortable. I was unceremoniously plonked in front of the TV with a blanket and a hot drink and instructions to stay there until I properly felt better.
And that is how I decided to watch “The Vow” on HBO. It's about a cult called NXIVM. I have friends who wandered in and out of a cult by mistake, so I thought I'd take a peek.
It was an intense watch. The people who got caught up with their sociopathic leader, were smart, gentle, talented individuals with one fatal flaw : Their desire to do good was matched by a capacity to feel shame.
I am very suspicious of shame. I know it's a human emotion and therefore has its place, but it's never evenly distributed. Too many good people are crippled by a perceived shame, and too many who could be doing with a good old dollop of shame seem to be the least able to feel it.
Personally I prefer regret. Regret is more a wee reminder to do things differently next time. Whereas shame is too much like, if you ever once peed your pants, you're never ever to be allowed to change your trousers.
There's no redemption. And come on, who doesn't love a good redemption?
Watching episode after episode - when not shouting, “Don’t listen to him, he’s a liar. In fact, he’s a creepy liar" at the TV, - I'd be shaking my head sympathetically. You only have to have one awful teacher to recognize that shame is the twin of control. Surprisingly I found myself almost thankful for those lessons from Mrs Dunbar - who is currently burning in Hell
When you make individuals ashamed of themselves - especially of things they have very little control of - you can have almost complete authority over them. It's like a magicians trick : distract someone by the severity of their inadequacies, and they'll be so preoccupied by their own failures, they barely notice any faults in their accuser
I drank more tea and took some more medicine, and sat in front of the TV. As time passed, I physically started to feel better, Though by the end of the last episode of “The Vow” I felt terribly sad.
We are a beautifully fragile species with pretty simple desires when it comes down to it: To be of worth. To be loved. To belong. And, sadly, that makes us prey to viruses.
I do hope these ex-NXIVM people find peace.
For my own part, I took a moment to send out a message to Mrs Dunbar - not that she'll be able to hear me obviously over the noise of the flames. I wanted her to know that I did indeed spend the week doing nothing. Not because I’m lazy. Not because I’m stupid. Not because Im good for nothing. And not because I think I'm special, but because I’m human. And sometimes humans do get sick.
We don't have potpourri in our house. Mark is totally against it. He says whenever he sees a bowl of potpourri, it always makes him wonder what shit it’s there to cover up the smell of.
Sometimes Mark is very wise.
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