I’ve noticed something in the past few weeks that feels different than it has in the past. It is the process of shaming. Maybe it is the political climate or the current social changes, or better awareness of world happenings, but there seems to be an abundance of shaming rhetoric going on.
But it certainly isn’t new. And when reflecting for a moment it has always been there. But why is it there? What is it supposed to do and what does it actually do? To start, I think there are two basic forms of shaming in my experience. External and internal.
External shaming is directed away, out into the world. Typically there is a specific target. Now I think sometimes it is done with purpose and other times done in ignorance. Purposeful shaming is saying someone slept their way to the top, or only got into the Ivy League school because daddy paid for it, or that the person with EBT is lazy or scamming the hard working taxpayers. It is meant to make the person feel less value or worth.
So why would we do such a thing? Mostly to control that other person and justify one’s perceived status (superiority). If I make you feel lower then I don’t have to feel bad for saying, or doing to you, something vile. Demanding birth certificates or telling anyone to go back home to some country or continent is to try to shame them.
Saying girls are bad at math or boys can’t cry is shaming entire groups and again attempting to control other people. It’s like saying one group of people is too stupid or weak to either care for themselves or too obtuse to care that they are forced into servitude.
Shaming others to control goes all the way back to good kid/bad kid labels. Good essentially means you do what I want and bad means you don’t. Then people throw authority figures from above into the mix to back them up. God and scientists and government officials and news anchors and what’s his name at the coffee shop.
We get these rules for treating others, controlling others, and we get very good at it. If we run into a juvenile or clearly subornite person trying to use the tactics in us, then we say they are manipulative or disrespectiful or oppositional. If we try the tactics on someone in authority then we are morally righteous or revolutionary and the authority is corrupt or abusive.
And if the external game isn’t enough, it can all be (and so often is) taken inside for a private show of skill. Because we are experts at the self-shame racket. I have a belief that good parents never lose it with their kids. Every time I raise my voice a decibel over some arbitrary level I mentally beat the crap out of my self. I say I’m horrible and terrible and that I must never do that. How could I have been so stupid to not predict they would climb up the end cap in the grocery story trying to get to the pink and white kitty balloon. A good parent would have known.
And so now I have been properly shamed and am controlling my behavior, but I know it’s only a matter of time until I lose it again or indulge in the chocolate bar or forget to say thank you or don’t take the trash out or… And so I keep up a running commentary chock full of shame blasts for every transgression whether real or fake, past or future, big or small. And they all get so much time that they must be important. I wouldn’t waste time (so much time) on something trivial. I just wouldn’t.
Shame is a sham. It is bill of goods with no goods attached. We try to control others, try to control ourselves, and to what end? I understand the fear that if we stop then people won’t know their place (I won’t know my place). We do it to keep them honest, to let them know we won’t stand for shenanigans, but the thing is we are expecting the world to run amok without proof it would.
We use shame as a weapon against those who believe diverse things. We use “shame on you” as a battle cry for waging war against others more like us than different. We tell ourself they are ‘other’ and act on the belief that ‘other’ means out to get me so I must attack it first. And even scarier – there is a little bit of ‘other’ in me too and so I have to attack it too.
I think it is time to try to lay down the weapons, stop the fighting and the shaming and the attacks because someone holds a different opinion. Stop trying to control the world. Control only matters if we are trying to fix the past or prevent the future. If we stay focused on this moment, there is no need for control – in fact control shows how much of an illusion it truly is.
So for this week, notice how often you witness shaming used as a tool for control. Try to see it from each perspective. Work to reduce shaming in your life and see if it makes you feel better, more human, more free.
Thanks as always,
With civility – Brian