6 of Swords: Humiliation
(c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2004-2011

if you are humble
nothing will touch you
neither praise nor disgrace
because you know what you are.
- Mother Teresa

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?"
Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

"If you think you are too small to make a difference - try sleeping with a mosquito."
Dalai Llama

The 6 of Swords in the Tarot is a most interesting card. Traditional imagery depicts a woman, her head is hung down and covered, with an aspect of defeat and humiliation. There is a small child by her side, her arm is around the child in a protective stance, as they are being ferried across a river. The journey is being propelled by a boatman with a large staff and he is seen pushing the boat from the shore to get this trip underway. We are left with many questions: Who is she? Is the child hers' or is it her inner child? Who is the boatman? Is he the man who is rescuing her and taking her to a safe destination? Is he her hostage taker and moving her and the child against their will? Has he been hired to take the woman and child on this journey? Why has she been brought so low? What are they all leaving behind? What circumstances have brought them to this place and time? Will they arrive at their destination? What does the future hold on this distant shore they are moving towards?

I think of this card as turning your back on humiliation, gossip and bullying and finding the peace of mind to move forward to new and better days. We have all had the negative experiences in life associated with scathing sarcasms, back biting and back stabbing actions and other aspects of bullying that can leave us feeling powerless, abused, intensely angered and humiliated. Sometimes the only real action we can take is to attempt to say what we think and feel, and to walk away clean. Very often the source of our humiliation or despair won't be impacted by anything we may say, no matter how clearly we can articulate our emotional pain or the circumstance which has created it. Sometimes the only choice is to move forward. We cannot think of it as a defeat or a personal failure if we are unable to make others see or understand our point of view. They may listen but they cannot hear and it isn't about how far we have come, but about how far others still have to go. We do know, however, that we can't take anymore.

Humiliation is a complicated subject and can mean many things to different people. Humiliation can refer to the lowering of a person or a group of persons against their will. It can be the strongest force that separates people and ruins relationships. Most importantly, it is an emotion and social construct which occurs naturally in social relationships. The denial of rights, freedoms, respect and recognition all can lead to feelings of humiliation. It is not as much about extremes of marginalization as it is an integral part of our current social order.

Humiliation is a dominating factor in killing, both the killing of others, as in a war type situation, and in suicides. It can be an extremely potent force which limits decision making, rationality and creates a severely reduced reference group for social navigation. People who feel humiliated will construct and deepen differences and divisions where none or very little existed before. This is why humiliation is very often one of the key factors in conflicts that escalate into cycles of violence. These cycles can be as extreme as terrorism or genocide. Humiliated parties can feel entitled to retaliate with violence. Respect and recognition are the real cure for humiliation. Humiliation is, in reality, the painful emotions and feelings that come with loss of self-respect and dignity.

It takes very little to hurt or injure someone's feelings, a cruel comment, a social snub, teasing, exclusion are all factors. It does not even matter if the humiliation is intentional or is merely being perceived as intentional, the damage has been done. The humiliated party starts seeking reprisal and an enemy has been created. We can all bury our heads in the sand, fix the blame on other people and deny any responsibility for the way humiliation is used as a weapon in our society.

The only person you can change is yourself and you can start by changing your attitude about several things. Do not tolerate spiteful gossip, don't repeat it, share or listen to it. If someone is gossiping to you about someone else, just state plainly that this makes you uncomfortable and it is not appropriate. Walk away clean. Remember that old saying about gossip, "It they are talking about this person to you, what are they saying about you to someone else."

Greet everyone you meet with a smile and a nod. Try and make eye contact and, if you feel up to it, a small comment on the weather, such as "What a lovely day today." is a sincere attempt at kind communication. You can't help everyone in the world, and not everyone will appreciate or reciprocate your greeting. If even one person smiles and nods back, you have done what you can by acknowledging another human being, crossing a barrier of isolation, and according them some respect. Who knows, it just might start a trend.


This page was created November 8, 2004 and updated October 5, 2006.