Tuesday, December 27, 2011

the good shame.

like so many things, shame is a two-sided medal. its negative aspect is well known to everybody. psychologists even talk about introducing a new condition in the dsm called 'shame-based trauma'. everything that we are not guilty of, or that characterizes us but is not negative per se (like being poor, muslim, black, gay, etc.) should not make us ashamed. however, societies frequently target such characteristics as being shameful, and people struggle how to come to terms with what they are on one side, and what the society values on the other. i cannot bear the blame for historical mistakes of my montenegrin people or of my croatian people or of the people of the town of niksic where i reside. a german should not be blamed for the historical tragedy of the holocaust, or a russian for the communist genocide. we should be ashamed only of the things we ourselves have perpetuated or supported. if there is shame, it's a good sign. it can have a cathartic effect. what is shameful is shamelessness.

however, i would like to point out another positive aspect of shame that is not frequently talked about, and that i was reminded of by viktor frankl. it is the so-called protective function of shame. the things within us that are profound, intimate, genuine, are always shielded off by a certain dose of shame. we reluctantly recount to larger audiences in detail how much we love someone, what excites us sexually, what our relationship with god is, etc. those are private things that feel debased if shared with the world. since we own them deep within our private realm, we want to keep them there. whenever people expose their privacy in excess (and some people neurotically do), i cannot but suspect their genuineness. it is only the things that we don't own that we can shamelessly expound on.

being personal is another thing, which i value greatly. it means to show the rest of the humankind that we are persons like everybody else, neither better nor worse, so that they can empathize with us. i am greatly disinclined to unspontaneous, machine-like behaviour i can see so much of here in montenegro. i prefer it much more when personality shows. but private things should remain private, sheltered, silent. as soon as we start talking about them their essence evaporates.

so, don't ask me what i believe in and don't tell me what you believe in. don't ask me how much i love the people i love and don't tell me about your loves. don't ask me what i am like as a person, and let me see for myself what kind of person you are. some things are better left unsaid, and shame helps us keep them to ourselves.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


this past semester i was teaching a new course called 'psychological themes in popular anglo-american culture'. i am quite happy with how it all went, considering how experiemental it was. i still need some feedback from the students, but i have a feeling that most of them enjoyed the classes, too.

one of the requirements for 10% grade points was a diary they were supposed to keep during the semester, writing about how they understood the things we were talking about, and which associations they had watching, reading, and listening to the material that illustrated the psychological topics. it was the first time i ever assigned such a task and i was unsure of how it would turn out.

not all of the students who attended the course handed in the diary, some 60% of them did. several were slightly disappointing, because they were passionless and flawed, but most were remarkable, and some outstanding. it was a joy to read them.

i could read in these half-official pages that the students closely followed and contemplated all the themes we discussed in classes. they recommended many movies, books and song lyrics dealing with psychological themes that could fit into the course. some dared include their personal musings and experiences, which was a delight to read. all in all, the diaries proved to be a great success.

in order to show off, i am now giving the translation taken from the summary of one of these diaries: 'i cannot say that i learned many new things in this course, probably because i have already passed exams in developmental and educational psychology and so i was familiar with some of the things. however, i can say that i did expand on my knowledge, that some of the things made me think, which is very important, because curiosity is in the heart of knowledge. i have seen fantastic movies thanks to this course and i finally felt as a student in a western university.'

Monday, December 19, 2011


i find it terribly hard to define cities. they are solid phenomena in space and time, but apart from the inevitable streets, buildings and vistas, it is some non-material spirit that gives them life. there is no single element - like size, population, history, physical beauty - that is decisive when the fame of a city is in question. the fame also doesn't last forever, but can be flickering and random.

it has always been my idea that new york is the capital of the world. i was glad to see a confirmation of this in this month's issue of national geographic, in which nyc is stated to be the place where more things happen than anywhere else in the world.

i first visited nyc in 2002, on the first anniversary of 9/11. that time i stayed there for two weeks. after week one, i knew i was absolutely in love with it. my second visit took place in february 2009, when i spent ten days with one of my best friends. since i was recovering from a surgery then, i found new york somewhat intimidating and hard. it had lost some of the splendour i had been attributing to it before. then i went again in may 2010, spent five days in upper west side, and balanced the two opposing pictures of it i had had. i started loving it again, but i certainly fell out of love with it. what will i make of it the next time i visit? god only knows.

the previous sentences illustrate the infirmity of our impressions of cities. all of the millions who lived permanently or temporarily in new york, who visited it for a month or just a day, who only read about it or just saw it on tv - all of these people, including myself, have different pictures, or more precisely different emotional responses to this city. many love it, many hate it, a few are indifferent, but it is still the same actual spot on earth. the same is applicable to any city or town in the world. and that is a fascination, and one of the reasons why i love cities.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

facebook dilemma.

i try not to get upset with the comments some of the people leave on facebook, but most of the time i cannot help it. it is not people i hardly know that bother me, but the ones i know well, and love, and am related to. sometimes they brag with their traditionalism, conservativism, even close-mindedness or chauvinism. they seem proud of their problematic beliefs. i want to think that it is about differences of opinion, to which all of us are entitled, but it pains me to hear such things from the people i truly care about. i am afraid that it would affect my feelings for them. it would have been much better had i never had a chance to learn about their worldviews, for ignorance can be blissful, but it still leads nowhere. now i have to learn how to accept that some of 'my' people are not the world's greatest pacifists!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


hyperreflection means to think about our problems incessantly. what we need then is a flight from the difficult situation, or rather a respite from it. viktor frankl called it dereflection. there is no use in pounding our heads all the time about the troubles that befall us. an escape is needed, an airing out of the suffocating inner chambers.

i watched a music show on tv tonight, and all the while i did not once think about my current circumstances, which are challenging. as soon as the show was over, however, i bumped into all the difficulties again. it felt like bumping into a brick wall. so how come that dereflection didn't help me? because what i did was not dereflection.

what i did was a more or less empty escapism. while keeping attention away from my problems, i didn't do anything to prepare myself to get back to the real life. escapism has its merits, it lets us breathe easier for a while, but it has no intrinsic value. what would, then, be dereflection, as opposed to escapism?

when we engage in an activity that we might call dereflection, apart from being distracted, we spend time dealing with things that have an authentic value, that charge us with positive energy and make us stronger to face life's difficulties. that could be a powerful movie, or a quality book, or spending time with well-meaning people. or reading psychology. watching a beautiful landscape. making food for other people. washing the car. e-mailing distant friends. just any activity that has a deep practical, artistic or scientific value, which works on us subliminally. not soaps, not most of what we can watch on tv, not video games. they just narcotize us.

Friday, December 2, 2011

love kiwanuka.

there is a flood of new music available everywhere. most of it is bad, some of it is good, so we pick our own favourites. sometimes we pick good stuff, sometimes bad, but that is irrelevant. the important thing is that we manage to find something that floats our musical boats. i don't easily come across new artists that i find thrilling, but one a year is not too bad either. in the last couple of years i have discovered the last shadow puppets, these new puritans, morcheeba. 2011 was seemingly going to pass without a great new discovery, but then, just a few days ago, i had the luck of bumping into michael kiwanuka, whose songs blew me away. there's nothing i don't like about his music - the lyrics, the voice, the unpretentiousness. he's at the same time old and young, a ugandan londoner. 'home again, one day i know i'll feel home again'

Thursday, December 1, 2011

the thin line.

there was a song in the late eighties about a 'thin line between love and hate'. i don't think i understood what it really was about, but i seem to have realized in the meantime that there are thin lines all around, between all the things within and without. the act of crossing these lines is an easy, everyday routine. we do it countless times, in many ways. are we really taught, and do we really teach, how to restrain from crossing the boundaries of the good, the beautiful, the humane? it doesn't seem to be of much interest to the masses. everything is abuzz with politics, economy, prestige, strategy, success. why not, for a change, think a little about the soul, about conscientiousness, about authenticity? i know that these very words sound fake, because they have been misused over and over again. however, why not reinvent them? in my opinion, that would reaffirm ourselves as human beings, and at the same time have an inevitable, though an incidental effect of improving the overall state of humanity.
half an hour after i wrote the above, i came across the following sentence in the book 'narcissism' by alexander lowen: 'when wealth occupies a higher position than wisdom, when notoriety is admired more than dignity, when success is more important than self-respect, the culture itself overvalues 'image' and must be regarded as narcissistic.'